DENVER — You’d never know it passing him on the highway. But the man crossing Colorado this week on the tricked-out Harley-Davidson isn’t exactly who you’d think.
“The older people who are not riding Harley`s think I’m crazy and the younger people think I’m cool,” E Bruce Hielman said.
Heilman was born when Calvin Coolidge was president. He’s a great-grandfather pushing 90 years old. And he has an amazing story to tell.
“I’m coming at age 89 on a motorcycle and they want to see this guy and then they’ll listen to him,” Heilman said.
People have been listening all over the country. He’s such an important guy with such an important message. He got an escort Tuesday from Denver police as he continues a trek that has already taken him 4,500 miles. The timing of his trip is no coincidence.
“The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II is coming and everybody’s invited,” Heilman said.
Heilman is a Marine who served in World War II. We first met up with him a few weeks ago, 7,000 miles from Colorado, on the tiny Pacific islands of Guam, Saipan and Tinian, islands he helped liberate seven decades ago.
He had gone there with a Denver-based charity called The Greatest Generations Foundation, a group that returns World War II veterans to the battlefields where they served.
Heilman joined the Marines at age 17 after flunking out of high school. He survived all kinds of close calls, including a plane crash on Iwo Jima. After the war, he went back to school, earned several degrees, had a long and storied career in higher education, and currently serves as the chancellor of the University of Richmond in Virginia.
And as the world prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this summer, he is going state to state, speaking at memorial services and talking to school groups.
“Traveling around the country citing my generation’s accomplishments. Trying to make the veterans know that the country still appreciates them,” Heilman said.
“When the 14th of August comes, we want everybody to celebrate the end of the war. And the accomplishments of the country and the greatness of our country because of the military,” he added.
Heilman will be traveling to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in August along with several other veterans and The Greatest Generations Foundation to commemorate the end of the war.
Guys like him might be fewer in number, but they’re still here, still active and they still have amazing stories to tell.
Of course, traveling around on the country means he’s not exactly the stereotypical great-grandfather. Not your typical 89-year-old.
Which is exactly the point of why he’s doing this.
Bruce is one of several veterans featured in a FOX 31 Denver News special airing on Memorial Day, “The Forgotten Islands of World War II,” airing May 25 at 9:30 p.m.